Reviews FLOW's NYC Carnegie Performance
©2017 Ambient Visions


Flow
by FLOW

Visit FLOW's website

 

Fiona Joy

 

Lawremce Blatt

 

Jeff Oster

 

Will Ackerman 

 

 

 

An Introvert Journeys to New York City and Goes With the FLOW
by Michael Foster

As you may or may not know I tend to be a very introverted person who is connected to a broad musical world via my Ambient Visions website and rarely do I venture out into the really real world other than at a very mundane level as I head off to work or to do a variety of equally unspectacular chores that make up my daily life. On occasion though I am tempted to step out of my ordinary introverted life and to step into that wider world which makes introverts like me quiver in their boots and on an even rarer occasion I act on those temptations and dive into that real world.  October 6 was one of those days where the benefit of venturing out overwhelmed my reservations and sent me off to the big city to discover the joys of live music.

What, you might ask, would tempt an introvert such as myself out of his seclusion and pull him to the big city? I’m glad you asked. I wanted to go with the FLOW. I know that doesn’t sound like a compelling reason and what the heck does it even mean anyway. The FLOW in this case is a new ensemble group that was celebrating the release of their first album simply entitled FLOW by performing as a group at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City which is a celebrated musical mecca of the performing arts in the United States. The motivating factor here was the composition of the group and the nature of the guest artists who would be performing with them on that Friday night in New York City. FLOW is actually an acronym for the first names of the artists who comprise the group and of course one last name from an artist who was slightly different, in a good way mind you, from the other members of the group.

FLOW stands for F Fiona Joy, L Lawrence Blatt, O Jeff Oster and W Will Ackerman. Ahhh so now you are seeing why the temptation was so great. Each artist is a very talented individual in their own right but as a group they begin to take on the mantle of a “supergroup” even though I’m sure that not a single one of them would ever lay claim to such a title because they don’t operate on an ego centric “rock star” view of the music they perform or their own status in the ambient/new age community at large but rather they view themselves as family who come together because of the friendship they share and because they love the music they are able to create as they pool their individual talents to go further than they could go alone.


When you hear the name Carnegie Hall your first thoughts will be that the venue is a huge place built for orchestras and very large audiences which is true. Carnegie Hall’s main hall called the Isaac Stern Auditorium seats 2,804 people on five levels and is quite impressive. FLOW’s concert on the other hand was held in the Weill Recital Hall of the Carnegie building and comfortably seats 268 people on two levels. Bigger is not always better when it comes to this particular type of music and in this case the Weill Recital Hall was as perfect as you can get for music that expresses deep emotions and uses delicate nuances to express those feelings. The Weill Recital Hall was an intimate setting for music that can best be described as statements of a very personal nature being laid bare on the stage in the form of compositions written by the individual composers or those that were written collectively by the group as part of the entity known as FLOW.

What was even more impressive about the show on Friday night was the feeling that I got that I was not listening to a group of musicians who were doing some of their very first performances together as a group but that these artists, these friends were putting on a show that felt more akin to people who had been performing together for many years. Their relaxed nature onstage and the quality of the music they produced did not speak of artists being thrown together simply to create a “supergroup” but rather it showed individual artists who had gravitated towards one another and shared a unified vision of what they were coming together to accomplish with the music that was pouring out of each of them.

As a side note the members of FLOW were not strangers to one another before they decided to join forces. It was through Will
Ackerman’s studio in Vermont and his production talents (I’m not forgetting you either Tom Eaton) that these individual artists started to orbit in close proximity to one another and eventually found that their musical paths would lead to a place where they would intersect and come together to forge a new path they all could walk together as one.

Let me get this out of the way right up front. The music and the performances by all concerned was quite simply fantastic and even for all the discomfort that an introvert like me went through to get there it was more than worth the effort to see these talented individuals take to the stage and simply blow us all away with their music which was joyful, touching, emotional, contemplative and even inventive if you take into account Eugene Friesen and his cello. I’ll come back to that in a moment but for now I just wanted to impress on you how skillfully this group of performers was able to transcend the idea that they were just a collection of individuals playing together and instead took it to a place where they moved, breathed and felt as one while they were on the stage that night. I am working on keeping this objective but if you were there you know what I am talking about.

The format of the show was rather unique but not completely unexpected because of the respect that these musicians have for each other and the compositions that they worked on together as FLOW and the compositions that each of them have created as solo artists over the years prior to coming together as FLOW.  The show was introduced by John Diliberto who is the host of a popular radio show called Echoes which is heard on 130 radio stations across the United States. A perfect choice for the introduction as John has been involved with ambient/new age music for many years now and it felt like another friend doing the introduction.

One by one FLOW entered the stage along with a couple of artists who are not a part of FLOW but were listed as guest artists in the promos leading up to the show. One artist, Tom Eaton, is a very talented ambient artist in his own right and also the engineer who works with Will Ackerman at his studio. Just saying that he is Will’s engineer does not even begin to cover the friendship that Will and Tom have created over the years but that would probably turn this review of the concert into a book length writing. If you want to know more about Tom Eaton Ambient Visions recently interviewed him and you can read more about him here. The other guest artist that joined FLOW as they took the stage was Jeff Haynes who acted as their percussionist throughout the night. Jeff is a standout performer as well and a very animated gentleman to watch as he creates a myriad of sounds on his percussive instruments and a variety of toys that he kept pulling up from beside him to make some very interesting sounds. Jeff is a world class grammy winning performer as well having spent some time as part of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny’s group a number of years ago. If you want to know more about Jeff check him out here.


Tom Eaton

The first song that FLOW played was also the first track of their newly released album and a very fittingly named song called Arrival. The song was appropriately named and heralded the beginning of the journey that this talented group of musicians will be making over the next few years as they perform and perhaps as they contemplate doing a second album together. Will Ackerman seemed particularly open with the audience as he spoke of the deep friendship that he shared with Tom Eaton and the fact that if Tom had not entered into his life he might have been retired by now. It was a very touching moment and indicated to this writer just how personal the music that would be presented this evening would actually be. As I watched the interactions of all the artists on the stage I felt that this deep friendship was something that they all shared with one another and as you know that kind of connection will always allow the artistic sides of everyone involved to be fully expressed without holding having to hold anything back.


Jeff Haynes

The unusual part of the show was the constant changing of personnel onstage for each of the songs that were to be performed. This shuffling of artists for several of the songs allowed the focus of this evening to shift from one to the other of the artists as each was shown to be an integral part of the group and to be a standout composer as an individual as well. I felt that this exemplified the feelings that the group had for one another and showed the audience that they wanted to give everyone a chance to shine and to show forth their talents and their compositions. It was a refreshing approach to a concert and allowed us all to realize that there were no egos at work on Friday night. It was a time that might best be typified by the old saying “all for one and one for all” in terms of how they functioned as a group.

It is difficult to pull out aspects of the show that impressed me because the entire show was an absolute joy to hear so I feel like it might diminish the whole to pull out facets that I felt deserved attention and talk about them as anything other than the perfect roles that each of the artists played in making the show work. I did enjoy the personalities that were displayed onstage though.

The brashness of Jeff Oster who was the showman who not only played his horns with passion but also provided some lively chatter to the show and kept things moving along quite nicely when he was front and center. Fiona Joy who plays the keyboards for FLOW was a sonic delight and really poured herself into her keyboard playing (should I call a Steinway a keyboard? That’s probably sacrilege in some circles.) Fiona also did some of the wordless vocals that were very ethereal at times and added a perfect harmonic touch to many of the compositions. She also shared a funny story about a non-functional microphone at the Sydney Opera House that you should ask her about if you ever get the chance. Lawrence Blatt played guitar and is a standout guitarist on his own and more than equal to the task of playing alongside Will Ackerman. I would dub Lawrence as the quiet unassuming one of this line up even though he would get some tough competition from Will for that honor.

Earlier when I used the word inventive to describe the music that I heard on Friday night I was referring to another guest artist who was there and who plays an intense cello. Eugene Friesen is a well-known cellist who has played on many artists albums over the years and has been a member of the Paul Winter Consort from the very beginning. Eugene was dazzling on the cello when he was playing with the other members of FLOW on their songs but when he came out to do a solo is when the term “inventive” comes to mind in how he played his cello. During his solo he abandoned his bow and he plucked, picked and pounded away on the strings of the cello making wonderfully unexpected sounds that I was not expecting to hear from someone who played cello.

The last guest artist I haven't mentioned yet is Vin Downes who also played guitar and was Will Ackerman’s duet partner for a couple of Will’s songs that benefitted from having two very talented guitarists playing them at the same time. It is remarkable when you hear someone play next to Will who has as much passion and as much talent to be able to play the song just as well as the composer of the song can himself.


Eugene Friesen

 

Vin is an artist that you should really look up on Spotify if he is not already on your radar because you will be very happy if his music is part of your life. Once more I wanted to say that Tom Eaton, though he sat quietly in the background for the most part and played his music skillfully and with a passion that was equal to any of those who were in the limelight, was truly an honorary member of FLOW for the night and kept a watchful eye on Jeff Oster to make sure he didn’t get too carried away.


Vin Downes

This has been a very wordy expression of how I felt about the celebratory performance of FLOW on Friday night as their first album was officially released to the public allowing everyone to take this great music home with them. Words alone can never capture the depth of a live performance such as this or truly express how great was the talent of all those involved but it will have to do for now. Perhaps it will motivate you to check their itinerary and make sure you catch them live for yourself when they appear in a venue closer to where you are. While this will probably be the template for future shows in that it is all about friends creating and performing music together the guest players may vary depending on what part of the country they are in. That will create a unique show each time FLOW performs as there will be regional guests who bring their own set of talents to the show and that new set of talents will create a slightly different take on the music each time.

It was a spectacular show that featured most of the songs from their debut CD as well as some favorites of each of the members of FLOW as well. Do yourself a favor and watch for them when they come to your neighborhood. Special thanks to Beth Hilton of The B Company for making this evening possible it was well worth all the effort involved even for a dyed in the wool introvert like myself.

 

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